As we get older, our blood pressure will naturally begin to rise. High blood pressure—also called hypertension—can lead to a number of life-threatening conditions.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, your lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure is a remarkable 90%, even if you still don’t have it by age 55 to 65. But despite this disheartening statistic, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure or to manage the condition and minimize the chances of adverse effects.
Blood pressure: know your basics
Your heart’s primary purpose is to pump oxygenated blood all through your body to provide the energy that you need. When you measure blood pressure, what you’re actually measuring is the amount of force that your blood exerts against the inner walls of your arteries when moving through your body. It is normal for your blood pressure to fluctuate throughout your day, depending on the food you eat or the activities you are participating in. It falls when you’re relaxing or sleeping, rises when you wake up in the morning, and can rise more significantly when you feel stress or excitement or as a result of exercise and physical exertion.
It’s important to monitor your resting blood pressure. If your resting blood pressure rises too high, it can damage your arteries and significantly increase your risk of developing serious health issues. In fact, high blood pressure is known to contribute to:
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Loss of vision
- Circulation problems, such as peripheral artery disease
- Weakened bones
- Erectile dysfunction
When untreated, high blood pressure can even lead to heart failure and death. That’s why it’s important to know your blood pressure “numbers”, watch for significant swings in your average, and consult a doctor as you age.
When a doctor tests your blood pressure, you’ll be given the reading in two numbers, one over the other. The number on top is your systolic blood pressure (SBP), and the number on the bottom is your diastolic blood pressure (DBP).
SBP is the maximum pressure exerted when your heart beats, whereas DBP is the level of pressure in your arteries between heartbeats. Typically, a person’s SBP reading rises as they age, and their DBP rises until they reach the age of 50 and then begins to decline.
An SBP reading below 120 with a DBP reading below 80 is considered healthy. A rising SBP reading can be an indication that a buildup of plaque may be causing the arteries to become stiff. A rising DBP reading can mean that you have already developed high blood pressure or are at risk.
Aging and blood pressure
Our blood pressure increases as we age due to structural changes in our arteries. These changes are often associated with a combination of complex factors related to our lifestyle and environment.
A variety of factors can contribute to your risk of developing high blood pressure as you age, including:
- A sedentary lifestyle with insufficient exercise
- A poor diet that is low in fibre
- Too much salt in the diet
- Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts
- Chronic stress
- Obesity or being overweight
- Sleep apnea
- Genetics and family history
- Decreased kidney function
- Thyroid and adrenal disorders
Interesting to note, people who live in rural areas that are secluded from the heavy pollution of cities tend to have a lower incidence of high blood pressure. In these areas, there is often a strong sense of community, which can lead to lower stress levels, and this may also be a factor.
Prevent or manage high blood pressure
While there is a significant risk of developing high blood pressure as you get older, “…doctors no longer consider hypertension inevitable or untreatable with age,” says Samuel Durso, M.D., director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins. The best course of action is to try to prevent high blood pressure from ever occurring and becoming a larger issue.
You can do several things to minimize your risk, and some of them aren’t even very difficult to start or maintain. Start with one or two goals from the following recommendations and stick with them. Once you’ve developed these new habits, keep going, incorporating more of these lifestyle improvements.
Improve Your Diet
Add more high-fibre foods like fruits and vegetables to your diet. Certain minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium help your body regulate blood pressure. These minerals are not only found in fruits and vegetables, but they are also found in dried beans and dairy products such as yogurt and milk.
High amounts of sodium (processed foods are notoriously high in sodium) can lead to high blood pressure by making your body retain water. Excessive water retention increases blood volume and can constrict your blood vessels. Try to limit your salt intake.
Start an exercise routine; Lose a little weight
Physical activity provides a positive reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity, helping to keep your arteries flexible, and reducing blood pressure. The type of exercise you choose doesn’t have to be too strenuous; walking, gardening, light jogging, and swimming are all excellent options.
Even losing a small amount of weight can make a significant improvement to your blood pressure, but regular exercise can be of great benefit even if you’re not overweight, so try to make it a lifelong habit.
Cut down on alcohol
As the saying goes, “everything in moderation”, and that’s the same with alcohol intake. Too much can be a contributing factor to high blood pressure, as well as other health problems.
If you smoke, you know how difficult it can be to quit. But quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your overall health. Smoking causes damage to your arteries and raises your risk of heart disease. Your doctor can provide advice on a variety of methods available to help make quitting easier.
Manage the stress in your life
Stress management techniques can help you control the hormones that are triggered by stressful situations and thought patterns. Breathing exercises, meditation, and journaling are just a few of the activities that have helped people manage stress. These simple activities are easy to find time for, and they can help you reduce your stress to a level that won’t negatively affect your blood pressure.
Don’t let high blood pressure develop (or go) unnoticed
There is typically a lack of noticeable symptoms leading up to a high blood pressure diagnosis. Regular check-ups are essential so that any increase in blood pressure is caught early, increasing your chances of getting it under control and preventing it from worsening.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will go a long way in protecting you from developing high blood pressure. Forming healthy habits can also help bring your numbers down if you already have high blood pressure and help you avoid its damaging effects.